“After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed. The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks; my thoughts would be soon crippled if I tried to force them on in any single direction against their natural inclination.”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Preface to Philosophical Investigations
I confess that my eyes water up as I sing from the front of a great cathedral, with a half dozen others in robes, the Thomas Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah. If I think of it later, I can consider singing them there to be prayer. Reading at my desk, just now, in Yafo, with the call to prayer wafting through the streets from the sky-seeking minaret, I hear a suppressed lamentation, and remember the sustained prayer laying just beneath the robust surface of Thoreau’s essay, “Walking.” Of course, Cavell and others hear something like confession and prayer in Wittgenstein’s writing. Why not prayer in Thoreau? And in any case, why offer our expressions and exposures to God? Further, can lamentation be witness to suffering . . . and simultaneously thankfulness?
There is nothing like theodicy’s legalistic acquittal of God at work here. A lament is not an argument. But prayers of lamentation might give us the sustenance of a fragile relation to the divine even amidst ineradicable and inexplicable suffering. This singing out, hearing out, might be partial redemption of human spirit, a maintenance of relation to God that suffering threatens to sever. If so, this living out, singing out, might enact a minimal theodicy.
Wittgenstein lets us express the ‘natural inclination’ of our thought (at the moment), released from the compulsion to force thought into a declarative argument we stand behind as finished — our word on the matter for the foreseeable future. Perhaps even as I lament irredeemable loss, I am gifted with — there remains intact — resources of artistic-religious expression embodied in the very cries of lamentation. And the depth of these cries seems to attest to an unbroken spirit I can be thankful for, even as in so many ways God seems bent on breaking our hearts, and often our bodies, and a good deal of our spirit.
At his deathbed Wittgenstein said he had led a wonderful life – even as his writing laments the darkness of the time, and thoughts of suicide never depart him.
Thoreau did not contemplate suicide, but he let himself follow his brother into the land of the dead.